Letter to Poet Matthew Dickman (and his response)

by austin beaton

I wrote my biggest inspiration and favorite poet, Matthew Dickman, when I was young and really afraid. He responded in nine days.

Hey, Matthew. My name is Austin. I’m almost 22 and writing this from my second-floor bedroom in a house on Alder Street. Eugene, Oregon. My 4 roommates and I live right on the corner where the road is closed to cars—hundreds of happy cyclists bike by every day. I even saw a few snow bikes last December.

I’m expected to graduate in June and leave town in September. Spanish major and Creative Writing minor. Bachelor of I’m Scared. Your poetry is a part of my life.

I read “Snow” to my parents two Christmas Eves ago. I’m an only child so the holidays aren’t eventful. I stood on the table and recited. My mom liked Santa and the pipe that smelled like cinnamon. My dad remained hidden in his copy of The Oregonian, but that’s okay. I’m just happy he acknowledges me as a man after I chose to fall in love with books instead of fishing or hunting or Jesus.

The first poet I loved was Larry Levis. When I was 18 my cousin, who’s a poet himself, handed me his collected works and said, “read this.” It was the only poetry I owned so I did—over and over and over. You were next. I was at Powell’s and grabbed All-American Poem because I recognized your name—I went to La Salle, too. Apparently you and your brother read at our school? I was a sophomore and didn’t like poetry, yet. Whadduh’ life!

I didn’t realize Mayakovsky’s Revolver existed until I needed it. My grandpa lived in Boston my whole life, but we’d still talk on the phone for an hour every Sunday (I grew up in Estacada). I didn’t know it then, but he was the only man in my family who understood me the way I wanted to be. He died my first year at the U of O. Tried to take a dump and had a heart attack instead. Dead on the bathroom tile. That’s the year I found poetry in a creative writing class. The year I tried to discover death by writing poems I didn’t actually like about eternal black coils and dark dogs and how it must feel to not exist forever. The year I read “My Brother’s Grave” and could be closer to satisfied about where my grandpa was.

Other than my cousin, who’s ten years older than me and happily tied off with a wife and career and children, none of my immediate family is interested in the arts. One of the gifts of family, or even better community, is the opportunity to trade questions for answers. So, I have some for you. I’d love if you’d answer even just one. Feel free to answer with your own questions.

—Do you read poems on the toilet?

I always tell people who’re interested that I like poetry because I can finish a poem in one sitting.

—Have you loved a girl in a way that you want to be her?

I fell in love in August and I don’t know if it’s always healthy. Is it ever?

—Can you make a life of poetry?

I think I know the answer and I think I know I’m afraid to try.

—Do you like your poems? Like, actually, truly enjoy them?

I hope at least some people do. I sometimes like my own, I think. Or maybe it’s more the writing of them.

—I read you used to worry a lot more about poems. I worry. Any tips?

Thank you for your time,

Austin Beaton

Dear Austin,

Thank you so much for your kind email. I miss Eugene. I finished my seven-year undergraduate degree there and spent two amazing years on campus. I hope everyone reads poems while they poop. You cannot make a

(secular) life out of poems but that is not what poems are for…they are for the spiritual life, the blood and guts of love and not rent or groceries. Your father, though maybe he can’t remember, was a poet once because he was a child once. I do like my poems. That is when I think of them I don’t judge them harshly, they are things I made which means everything and nothing.

I want you to (unless you already have it) go out and buy Mary Ruefle’s book “Madness, Rack, and Honey” and read it over and over. This is the best guide I know of for being a poet…that and being open to life.

Be well,